Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Madison the next Milwaukee?

Ever since the digital revolution started more than a decade ago, Milwaukee has not grown nearly as fast as other cities in the country. Some people thought it was a problem with Wisconsin. However, Madison and other cities like Eau Claire have grown substantially faster than Milwaukee. Specifically, Madison\’s biotechnology industry has fueled its expansion in recent years while Milwaukee\’s once powerful manufacturing industry dwindled and became a liability. Although Milwaukee is slowly making a comeback, Madison is still chugging along at growth rates that are, at times, three times the size of Milwaukee\’s. So is it safe to say that Madison\’s economy, now grown to 40% the size of Milwaukee\’s, could be the economic leader of Wisconsin in the future?

Madison does have the tools in place to be a contender, primarily a great educational infrastructure. Milwaukee is only now realizing the importance of education in maintaining economic clout and is now starting to push support behind its universities. However its public school system, MPS, does not provide Milwaukee\’s universities with an abundance of good students which limits the synergies and benefits that would arise from a private sector / university partnership. Madison has this partnership and is a big reason for its relatively huge success in recent years.

So is Milwaukee finished as Wisconsin\’s powerhouse? Should we start looking to Madison for guidance and hope? Not quite yet. But if Milwaukee\’s schools don\’t shape up, Madison may be the front-runner sooner than we expect.

1 Comment

  1. Ben,

    You talk about Madison’s “partnership” with its public school system as a reason for its success. No doubt as strong school system is an asset to Madison, but the significant struggles the MMSD has with its minority student population must be addressed if Madison is to maintain its economic success. As I show below, African-American (AA) – White achievement gaps are actually greater in Madison than Milwaukee:

    2006 African-American – White percent Proficient and Advanced gap on the WKCE in Grade 10:


    Grade 10 Reading: 35 points
    Grade 10 Math: 42 points


    Grade 10 Reading: 45 points
    Grade 10 Math: 47 points

    Another red flag is ACT participation rates. The ACT is a test taken by students who are considering college. In MPS, the 2006-07 ACT participation rate was 41.2% for African-Americans. In MMSD, that number was 20.1%. In other words, only 20.1% of African-Americans in MMSD are taking a necessary step to go on to college. This is obviously a serious problem.

    WPRI addressed these issues in a 1994 report I urge you to look at here:

    This is not about minimizing the successes Madison has had, or minimizing the problems Milwaukee has had. It is about addressing an achievement gap problem that exists in districts across Wisconsin, and the country as a whole.

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